January 8, 1999
CABARET REVIEW; An Out-of-the-Way Mix Of Humor and Nostalgia
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Melding these two hasn't always been easy for Ms. Sullivan, who tends to overplay her ''dumb blonde'' parody. But in her new cabaret act, ''Noel, Cole and Bart,'' which plays at the Firebird Cafe through Jan. 22, she has found a near-perfect blend of humor and nostalgia.
Noel, Cole and Bart are Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Bart Howard, three songwriters whose work defines a certain witty, high-toned urbanity. And Ms. Sullivan, accompanied by West McAfee on piano and John Loereke on bass, has gone out of her way to find worthy obscurities by all three. Take ''The Physician,'' a 1933 Porter gem in which an examining doctor approves of his sweetheart's vertebrae, coccyx, patella, thorax and other body parts but can't bring himself to say, ''I love you.'' Ms. Sullivan uses the song to bolster the proposition trumpeted by another Porter song, ''Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love.''
An even funnier medley fuses two Coward songs of affected angst -- ''World Weary'' and ''Weary of It All'' -- to suggest that the pampered, citified narrator wouldn't last a day living the bucolic life he envisages as a purifying escape from hell.
Late in the show, Ms. Sullivan pauses to deliver sweet straightforward versions of ''So in Love,'' and ''Wunderbar'' from ''Kiss Me Kate'' and two Bart Howard numbers, ''Walk Up'' and ''Year After Year.'' Their poignancy lends the froth just the right amount of substance.